Picture-blogging in the Supreme Court

Blogging artist Isobel Williams on her work in the highest court in the land.

Since July 2012 I have been an occasional blogger-with-a-difference in the Supreme Court, with the court’s permission. The difference is that I illustrate my blog with drawings which I do on the spot; I rarely embellish them afterwards.

As far as the words go, there are plenty of lawyers who produce technical analyses of the proceedings. Being a non-lawyer, I riff on the general theme of the case, such as terrorism (R v Gul), harassment (Hayes v Willoughby) or pensions (Nortel and Lehman). Sometimes I go off on a tangent, as when drawing itself became my story in Bull v Hall.

Concerning the pictures, there are practicalities. I can’t use some of my favourite drawing materials – bamboo pens, wooden coffee stirrers, quills, sheep’s wool tufts – as they need to be dipped in ink. Splashing a bottle of that onto the multi-coloured carpet designed by Sir Peter Blake would not endear me to the authorities. Similarly, I have to avoid the noisy friction of extravagant sweeps across textured paper.

Like the Derby, the Supreme Court is on the flat – no elevated jury, no witness box – so from the public seats it’s about the backs of heads and chairs, with the justices far away across the howling tundra. How do you deal with that? Sometimes I experiment with transparent outlines. In the drawing of R v Hughes (opposite), the justices are pink ectoplasm, the staff and judicial assistants orange. Opera glasses are an option I am yet to explore.

In each courtroom, discreet amplification emphasises every breath, every rustle, every moment of nervous tension. In the stark white box of Court 2, the plushy floral curtains aren’t enough to insulate counsel from the relentless scrape of the minute hand on the slate clock or the finality of the omega on the court emblem. It’s all right for me – I can just sit here scribbling and  ingerpainting with compressed charcoal while fine minds deal in cool abstractions.

So which is more important, the art or the text? The answer is neither: it’s the Supreme Court itself. One day when I noted some choice aperçus from the bench, a tweeter put me in my place by recommending my blog post ‘not for the drawings, but brilliant comments from Baroness Hale’.

Isobel Williams, Blogging Artist

Posts are on www.isobelwilliams.blogspot.com (click on the ‘Supreme Court’ label) and on www. ukscblog.com, the independent blog about the Supreme Court run by Matrix and Olswang.

 

 

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Isobel Williams

Isobel is an artist, blogger and PR consultant. She draws at the Supreme Court and other
challenging locations, including the Occupy camp outside St Paul’s.